SCOTLAND’S Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has described this year’s exam results as one of the “strongest-ever sets”. 

School pupils across Scotland received their grades on Tuesday following the first full exam diet since the beginning of the pandemic. 

At National 5 level, the pass rate was 80.8%, down from 85.8% in 2021 but up from 78.2% in 2019. 

The SQA confirmed it would grade this year’s exams “generously” owing to the impact of Covid. 

READ MORE: SQA say exams have been graded 'generously' this year

The higher pass rate is down from last year but remains above 2019 levels while figures show the attainment of A to C grades was 78.9% - again a decrease on 2021 and 2020 but above 2019 levels.

Somerville said: “This is one of the strongest-ever sets of results for any exam year, which is particularly impressive given the significant challenges learners have faced as a result of the pandemic. 

“Pass rates for National 5s, Highers, and Advanced Highers have increased compared with 2019, with A passes also up, and skills-based qualifications are close to the highest-ever figure.”

At Advanced Higher level, the level of attainment of A to C grades was 81.3%, down from 90.2% in 2021 but well up from 2019 levels which stood at 79.4%. 

Somerville added: “It is important to note, though, that although 2022 saw a return to exams, it was not a return to normality. 

“The approach to exams reflected the disruption to teaching and learning that young people faced and a wide-ranging package of support and modifications was put in place. 

“I am confident that the approach, which was informed by views from across the education system, as well as learners, has delivered a credible, consistent and fair set of results for our young people.

“Indeed, universities have assured learners that they support the 2022 approach to assessment and industry leaders have spoken publicly about how much they value this year’s qualifications.”

However, the attainment gap between the most and least deprived areas of Scotland has grown wider in this year’s figures compared to last year. 

In the fifth most deprived area, the Higher pass rate was 70.2%, down from 83.2% last year.

By contrast, the Higher pass rate stood at 85.1% in the fifth least deprived area of the country, down from 91% last year when teacher assessments were used to determine final results. 

In total, the gap between the most and least deprived areas has gone from 7.8 percentage points in 2021 to 14.9 percentage points this year. 

The National: This year marked the return of a full exam dietThis year marked the return of a full exam diet (Image: Getty Images)

The gap in 2019 was 16.9 percentage points. 

The SQA’s chief executive and Scotland’s chief examining officer Fiona Robertson said: “Many congratulations to the 138,000 learners receiving their certificates today. They have demonstrated what they are capable of and should be proud of their achievements.

“Learners can be confident that their qualifications provide a solid foundation for the next stage in their learning, training or employment.

“This is the first time that exams have taken place since 2019 but this year does not mark a return to normal – learners have faced further disruption from Covid-19, on the back of the two previous years of disruption from the pandemic. 

“That is why the SQA, teachers, lecturers and partners across the education system put in place a wide-ranging package of support this year – everyone has pulled together to help mitigate the impact on learners and to give them the best chance of performing to the best of their abilities. 

“Together, we have delivered fairness for learners while maintaining national standards – and learners can have confidence in their grades.”

READ MORE: Can I appeal my SQA exams results? - Here's what you need to know

The Scottish Greens also commented on this year’s results and described the appeals system as a “significant improvement”.

Their education spokesperson, Ross Greer, said: “The 2021-22 year was tough for young people across Scotland. 

“Whatever results they’ve just received, they should be congratulated for navigating their way through those challenges.”

Greer encouraged any pupils who had not received the results they had expected to speak to their teacher or lecturer about making an appeal.

He continued: “Appeals can now be lodged on the grounds of ‘exceptional circumstances’ such as Covid-related absence, and the no-detriment policy we proposed has been introduced, so there is no risk of a grade being lowered on appeal.

Following the confirmation of results, The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) said a record 60.1% of Scottish students have gained a place at their first-choice university. 

This figure is up from the pre-pandemic level of 57.5% in 2019 with that number expected to rise in the coming days as more people confirm their decision. 

Ucas also said there has been a narrowing of the gender progression gap in Scotland for those aged 19 and under.

In 2019, 50% more females progressed to higher education than males, but that has narrowed to 39%, down from 47% last year.